While kudzu chokes trees and causes problems with power lines with its astonishing growth--up to 4 feet a day in the summer--it's also an amazing plant, great for returning nitrogen to depleted soils (it's a member of the legume family), nutritious and appealing to livestock (although difficult to package up), and, now, also taking its turn as a promising superstar on the nutritional supplements red carpet.
Kudzu extract is being studied at Harvard to reduce alcohol cravings--perhaps through better metabolism of alcohol and changes to the rewards circuits in the brain. According to the Wikipedia entry on kudzu:
Kudzu also contains a number of useful isoflavones, including daidzein (an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent). Daidzin is a cancer preventive and genistein (an antileukemic agent). Kudzu is a unique source of the isoflavone puerarin. Kudzu root compounds can affect neurotransmitters (including serotonin, GABA, and glutamate.) It has shown value in treating migraine and cluster headache. It is recommended for allergies and diarrhea.
Research in mice models suggests that kudzu is beneficial in women for control of some post-menopausal symptoms, such as hypertension and diabetes type II.In traditional Chinese medicine, where it is known as gé gēn, kudzu is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs. It is used to treat tinnitus, vertigo, and Wei syndrome.
I saw a news release this morning that links puerarin from kudzu to reduced blood pressure, reduced blood cholesterol, and also to improved blood sugar regulation, a hugely interesting finding with all the diabetes and metabolic syndrome that modern diets bring. According to the researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, puerarin from kudzu steers blood sugar away from fat cells and blood vessels and toward muscles, where sugar can be used instead of stored.
Even better news is that the kudzu extract had no side effects on the rats that were tested over a 2 month period. And, if puerarin ends up being a genuine superstar, physicians could drop the dosages of insulin management pharmaceuticals by adding a natural supplement that appears to come without the side effects of pharmaceuticals.
Those of y'all living in the South just may have a gold mine in your backyard instead of a nuisance. Kudzu may be your newest best friend!